To celebrate the 25th birthday today of Marian Keyes’s now classic novel Rachel’s Holiday, we asked fellow writers to explain what Rachel and Marian mean to them
Marian Keyes is dismissed by those who have never read her – just as Maeve Binchy was before her. Writers who prioritise the stories of everyday women are subject to the same sneering sexism their characters must face. And what characters – Rachel Walsh exploded into my life and has never left. In the intervening 25 years, Marian has given millions of readers thousands of hours of pure reading joy. She has moved us, more than most. And made us think as deeply as we feel. She is also a glorious supporter of her readers and of new writing talents – as generous as she is talented.
Damian Barr's books include Maggie & Me and You Will Be Safe Here.
Marian Keyes employs humour to mask pain, optimism to cope with tragedy, and wit to stave off despair. When I was a Dublin bookseller in the mid-'90s, it wasn't easy to keep up with demand for Rachel's Holiday; my hands were turned pink from the amount I had to scan through the tills. Like the great writer she is, Marian has proved both prolific and consistent in her work, and her willingness to discuss mental health openly has helped many of us who have faced similar struggles. Happy birthday to Rachel, and congratulations to Marian on her incredible career.
John Boyne's latest book is The Echo Chamber
I was in my early twenties when I first read Rachel's Holiday and, drug addiction aside, there's never been a fictional character I've related to more than the original unreliable narrator herself, Rachel Walsh. Since then, I've carried this novel around the world with me like a rectangular security blanket, returning to it whenever I've needed comfort or familiarity. It's given me nearly two decades of laughter and tears and, most importantly, the phrase "feathery stroker", which I use to this day at every opportunity. Thank you, Marian.
Sarah Breen is co-author of the bestselling Aisling series
Kit de Waal
I hold Marian in the highest regard, both as an author and as a woman who does so much for mental health and for the writing community. She is never short of a word of encouragement and wears her fame and intellect lightly.
Kit de Waal's latest book is Supporting Cast
Marian Keyes is a giant of Irish writing. Her dialogue rivals that of any Abbey playwright, and she combines all registers of humour, from the curtest deadpan to the loudest slapstick; her novels are exquisitely novelly, as she understands that the form is meant to have a bit of everything. She assumes nothing of her reader except that they are just as smart as her and feel just as deeply as she does. That first crack of the spine is like opening an invitation, and you never doubt that the hostess is in charge.
Naoise Dolan is author of Exciting Times
Rachel Walsh unleashed a force in the Irish female psyche. Her readers saw themselves right there on the page, in all their wit, and desiring and brilliant, stupid blundering about. But there was also a serious reckoning going on in the writing. How much are you going to put up with? What are you going to change? Keyes's Irish readers were also the voters who, slowly, pushed back against the idea that women were either pure or ashamed. You can't keep a good woman down. And d'you know why? Because she's funny – that's why. And funny means free, funny always rises to fight another day.
Anne Enright's latest book is Actress
Rachel Walsh and Marian Keyes go together like sisters. Like friends. Of course they do – Marian wrote Rachel, invented her. But it's more than that. So much more. In Rachel, Marian invites us into a very intimate place, a place we suspect is deep inside Marian. Anyone who's come across Marian will know that if you join her there, you're in for belly laughs and gut punches in equal measure. Marian lets us understand Rachel and all her clamorous demons, most especially her powerful shame in this phenomenally transformative book. I love Marian's writing, because I remember it. I remember it because it's the truth. With big laughs. Marian Keyes is contemporary fiction. Damn her to hell.
Dawn French's latest book is Because of You
Marian Keyes has a feeling for character, an ear for dialogue and a proficiency for plotting that should make her the envy of most Booker listees. Her love and understanding of people and the foibles, follies and frailties that make them human are clear in the spaces between every line she writes. With each and every book, she proves that it's possible to be profound while being hilariously funny.
Paul Howard is author of the bestselling Ross O'Carroll-Kelly series
When I think of Marian Keyes, I think of the warmest hug. She is heart, and humour and honesty and integrity and curiosity and kindness. And all of these qualities pour into her writing, and we are the lucky ones to read her work, to journey with her characters, to enter the worlds of her incredible imagination. She isn't afraid to explore vulnerability, failure and fragility, and this makes her writing all the more inclusive, relatable, human, heartbreaking and heart-warming. And always, always laced with the sharpest of wit and laugh-out-loudest of humour. Thank you for being you Marian. We love you!
Amy Huberman's books include I Wished for You
Marian's writing is a talisman of hope in my life, and in the lives of millions of people. We can hold on to her words, laughing and crying and knowing we are not alone. She writes for all of us. I can remember reading Rachel's Holiday 25 years ago and thinking that this writer, this amazing woman, understood all the contradictory things in my head, and how could she, because this wasn't my story and yet, she understood about being human like nobody else. And could write it. Her words are a gift and her talent is glorious. Congratulations, darling Marian.
Cathy Kelly's latest novel is Other Women
Getting your hands on the latest "Marian", and diving into the world she has created, is one of the truly joyful things in my life. I love to reread her classics - especially Rachel's Holiday - which remains as fresh, funny and fabulous today as it was twenty-five years ago. Marian is not only a brilliant storyteller and hugely talented writer, but she's also kind, big-hearted and generous. She's one of those rare people who can make you feel better just by walking into the room. Her honesty about the struggles she has faced and overcome is truly inspiring. Her writing makes me belly laugh with glee and sob with sorrow. Marian is the real deal. We are so lucky to have her.
Lorraine Kelly's latest book is Shine: Discover a Brighter You
How wonderful to return to this after twenty-five years, and find that Rachel, her family, and all the other beautifully drawn charac- ters in the book haven't aged a bit! But then, Marian Keyes's writing is always a joy to revisit: her talent for tackling serious issues with such lightness of touch, humanity and wit is balm for the soul.
In Rachel's Holiday Marian Keyes describes the "mountainy" John Joe as the "kind of man who'd hide in a bush when a car passed him on the road". I will never forget reading it for the first time, such a hilarious and succinct yet tender insight. I read that first copy so many times it fell apart, as did subsequent repurchases. I've loved many books in my life but I don't know if one has been as quoted, remembered, recommended and revered as Rachel's Holiday – a modern classic. Thank you Marian!
Emer McLysaght is co-author of the bestselling Aisling series
Congratulations to the gifted, gorgeous literary princess Marian Keyes, on 25 years of bringing joy, comfort, laughter and wisdom to millions around the world. As a reader, I adored Rachel's Holiday for its tender heart and humour. As an author, I saw the book as a masterclass in the art of writing from the perspective of the most delightfully flawed unreliable narrator. Marian is so good she makes it look easy, but it's not easy. Her wit is uniquely hers. The clarity of her writing and authenticity of her characters are impossible to imitate. She is an extraordinary talent.
Liane Moriarty's books include Big Little Lies
The best way I can describe first reading Rachel's Holiday was that it felt like coming home. I felt that Marian truly understood women, their feelings, emotions, struggles, concerns and complex- ities. She is an exceptionally gifted writer who somehow makes her skilled storytelling appear effortless.
Sinéad Moriarty's latest novel is About Us
There is simply no one like Marian Keyes. Her books are fleet- footed, bracingly honest, and variously funny, sexy, heartbreaking, and able to reflect modern life and relationships in all their com- plicated glory. I learned more about depression from The Mystery of Mercy Close than any textbook (it also has an excellent sex scene) in a passage that made me actually sob. She may not get the plau- dits on the literary pages that she deserves, but all those who know and love her (and we are legion) are grateful for her writing and for her general existence.
Jojo Moyes' latest book is The Giver of Stars
What I love about Marian's writing is that sense of conversation with the reader; she's your best, funniest friend telling a story, a story that's honest, sometimes darker than you initially expected. In the case of Rachel's Holiday, Marian absolutely nails the gulf between how the addict sees themselves and how they're seen by those that care for them. It's a generous, loving, insightful book that never shies away from the horrible reality of dependence and addiction.
David Nicholls' latest novel is Sweet Sorrow
Long before I met Marian Keyes, I had fallen for her: her humanity, her humour and her kindness, because these were the qualities that shone through the pages of Rachel's Holiday. There were no villains and no monsters, just a collection of flawed human beings forced into a situation where there was no escape from each other. Taken on a micro level, these characters could be reflected in our own families - and on a macro level, these are the people with whom we share the planet. And my dearest wish is that we might approach them with the same generosity that Marian did. Marian is fiercely proud of being Irish, and we are fiercely proud of her. What a perfect ambassador to send out into the world, representing the very best of us.
Liz Nugent's latest novel is Our Little Cruelties
For me, what makes Marian's storytelling so unique is the way in which she creates characters and worlds that are completely familiar, and then manages to address an extraordinary variety of issues in a way that never jars or causes the reader to lose faith in the story. To my mind she is fearless and provocative, without ever having to raise her voice – and that is a rare gift indeed. On a personal level, she is so incredibly generous and supportive of other writers, myself included, and through exposing her own insecurities, encourages others on the days when the words won't come. The only person who seems blissfully unaware that she is a publishing juggernaut is Marian herself, which makes the rest of us just love her more!
Graham Norton's latest novel is Home Stretch
I read Rachel's Holiday after I was hospitalizsed for anorexia and bulimia. There's a scene in which Rachel takes coke alone and my reaction was scornful – who does drugs by themselves, like a loser? And a tiny voice inside me whispered, you do this. You use food in the same furtive way. You're an addict, just like Rachel. That's the power of Marian Keyes. She will make you laugh and make you cry, but she will also reveal the truth of who you really are. Her work is laugh-out-loud funny, compulsively readable, and yet there is always that dark heart, pulsing at its core. I can think of few other writers who have the same innate understanding of human nature as she does, and even fewer who make it look so effortless. In short, she is one of our finest authors, and Rachel's Holiday is a modern classic.
Louise O'Neill's latest novel is After the Silence
Rachel's Holiday is an extraordinary book by an extraordinary writer. Marian Keyes writes with wicked humour, empathy and deep knowledge about a dark and sensitive subject – namely, addiction. Rachel herself, self-centred and blind to her faults and predicament, is a wonderfully three-dimensional creation, carrying us with her on her journey to painful discovery and possible healing, surrounded by a vivid array of characters who people Cloisters addiction clinic. I was rooting for them all, a lump in my throat and a smile on my face. This is a story that remains as vivid and important as the day it was written.
Ian Rankin's latest novel is A Song for the Dark Times
Marian is one of the true greats. Her wit, warmth, openness and vulnerability make you feel like you're in the company of an old friend. The ease with which she moves sometimes makes you underestimate her genius, which I think probably suits her just fine.
Angela Scanlon's Joyrider: How Gratitude Can Get You the Life You Really Want is out next year
The 25th anniversary edition of Rachel's Holiday by Marian Keyes is published today by Michael Joseph